Cartoons, just for kids? Hah! Not these days. In fact there are more popular adult cartoons out there than there are kids shows, particularly in the mainstream television industry. Kids shows have certainly taken a back seat to things like Seth Macfarlane, South Park and even the Simpsons. This makes it easy to miss an absolute treasure that might be heralded as a show for pre-teens, but could actually be appreciated by absolutely everyone.
Whilst Avatar: The Last Airbender has stopped, the fandom has not. I count myself as one amongst them.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my fair share of kids shows for their randomness, the occasional adult jibe and the characters, which on occasion, strike a chord. I’m talking The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy (perfect example of this). I have grown up with Cartoon Network and I have a tendency to go towards the random as opposed to the story. I reckon this is probably why I got into Avatar quite late, only buying the Book 1, Volume 1 DVD this time last year. Not to mention I made the horrendous mistake of watching the film first.
From episode one I was hooked. All right so this review is blatantly obvious in it’s bias, but please understand that I’m not one of those people who becomes obsessed with something because I want the characters to make out. No, I love this show because of what it actually does with, and for, the viewer.
The story revolves around a young Southern Water tribe girl named Katara, who happens to be a Bender, a Water Bender to be exact. Whilst out fishing with her older brother Sokka, a non-bender, she inadvertently finds a young boy in an iceberg, and frees him. The young boy, Aang, is soon to be revealed as the Avatar, the only being who can bend all four elements and thus bring balance to the world. It is also revealed that he is an Air bender and thanks to the Fire Nation, the last of his kind. He is joined by Appa, a flying Bison and later by Momo a flying rabbit-monkey and much later by Toph, a tough as nails earth bending girl.
We also find out that the Avatar has been missing for 100 years and that the Fire Nation has been at war with the other nations since the disappearance of the last Avatar, a war that has cost the world many lives. Our main villain changes throughout the three series, starting with Zuko, an exiled Prince who is determined to capture the Avatar and win his father’s love again, under the watchful and guiding hand of his Uncle Iroh. We then move on to Azula, Zuko’s sister, a confident and powerful young woman with a screw-loose. Finally we have Fire Lord Ozai, who is a predominant factor through out all three books. Aang must travel the world to master Water, Earth and Fire bending, so that he can defeat Fire-Lord Ozai before Sozin’s Comet comes and grants fire benders an unbelievable boost, which will allow him to win the waronce and for all.
Background out of the way; hope you stuck with me there… You’re probably wondering what makes this cartoon better than others? Lets start with the art. The show’s style is a mixture of anime, textured detail with references to other Asian cultures through landscape, architecture, styles of fighting and fashion. Each culture has its own way and this makes for an absolutely beautiful amount of ethnicity making its way into each episode; everything is detailed and everything has a point. There’s always something to see, and there’s much to be enjoyed in the finer details of things.
The action is beautiful. The very nature of bending and controlling the elements means that they each have their own style. Not to mention that each style of bending appears to have its foundations in a martial art of its own and this means that you are appreciating it from a physical angle and an aesthetic angle.
The characters are lovable and hateful, but most importantly ‘relatable’. Everyone has a motive for something, everything has a purpose; there’s a goal to strive for and a reason for that goal. These kids we follow aren’t just kids, they’re mature when necessary and have a lot to fight and strive for. The whole thing takes place over a year, BUT they actually grow up, they don’t stay the same. The episodes range from comedy to heartbreaking drama. And I really mean that; this kids show has plenty of adult themes, delving into dark places on occasion.
The sounds in the show are amazing; the musical score is deep and variable, never quite the same throughout, but following a comfortable motif. Important characters have their own music that develops with them. It’s not used obviously either – scenes which would naturally fit a fast paced score are sometimes set to something deeper and slower, to highlight the emotional intensity, as opposed to the physical. The voice acting is excellent; the actors behind the cartoons are often very experienced or simply natural in how they speak and respond. There’s plenty of sarcasm, self-depreciation and most importantly, love and potency granted to all the characters by their voices.
The thing about Avatar is that you can tell the creators enjoyed making it. The love and detail put into the whole story (which I wish I could relay in this review but simply don’t have enough words or time to) is evident in everything.
There are some imperfections; occasionally the writing will seem a little bland, but only because you’re used to it being so tasty. Intermittently there will be an animation goof, or something won’t make sense, but these are minimal. This show deserves all the praise. It’s finished now, but I hope if you’ve read this far it’s because I’ve piqued your curiosity, or you appreciate it as much as I do. If you disagree I’d love to hear why!